Gov. Arne Carlson gave the go-ahead Tuesday for a new $38.5 million digital library and archive facility.
The sandstone caverns beneath the West Bank could be excavated as early as this spring to make way for the Minnesota Library Access Center, which Carlson had postponed in November despite legislative support.
“They say that sometimes when you wait for something it’s all the sweeter when it comes, and this is a very wonderful moment,” said University Librarian Tom Shaughnessy.
The Minnesota Library Access Center will be a technologically advanced storage facility for the state’s and the University’s lesser-used library resources. The center will also free up study space taken up by the University’s ever-growing library collection.
Funding for the center was approved by the state Legislature last April as part of that year’s state bonding bill. A bonding task force appointed by Carlson to review state-funded capital projects withheld bonding for the project in November, citing several reasons.
“The governor had some concerns about the cost of the project and its connections to other libraries in Minnesota,” Shaughnessy said.
At that time, task force chair Wayne Simoneau also said University officials failed to articulate a vision of how the University would integrate digital technologies, such as distance learning and text digitization, into the center.
But University officials convinced Carlson this week to approve the project.
“The questions that were raised by the bonding bill task force have been appropriately answered,” said Brian Dietz, Carlson’s communications coordinator. “The governor and the commissioner of finance felt it was appropriate to move forward.”
The center will allow the 14 University libraries on the Twin Cities campus to store their rare and less heavily used collections in a climate-controlled, underground archive facility. Currently these libraries add more than 100,000 volumes a year to the University collection, which already exceeds five million volumes.
One of the center’s key components will be a text-digitizing facility that will allow non-copyrighted books to be scanned and placed on the World Wide Web.
The center will also serve as a repository and interlibrary loan center for materials from public and private libraries across the state.
A promise by University officials to remodel Walter Library into a “high-tech library-multimedia center” in the near future, in addition to the center project, was key to gaining Carlson’s approval, said Marvin Marshak, senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
“What we laid out for the governor and the capital-bonding task force was a vision in which the (center), both for the University and the state, would limit the future growth of libraries for storage,” Marshak said.
The facility will create a Walter Library that has “a limited number of books in physical form, but then a virtually unlimited amount of information in electronic form,” Marshak said.
After Marshak sent a letter on Feb. 3 to the task force addressing its concerns, state officials reviewed the letter and approved the project Monday.
“There had been other communications prior to that, but apparently the time had come and we got the green light,” Shaughnessy said.
Surprisingly, no significant changes have been made to the proposed blueprints of the access center since Carlson denied approval, Shaughnessy said.
Rather than modifying the plans, University planners placed extra emphasis on certain elements that were present in the original.
“We went back to those original plans and highlighted certain features that the governor and the task force were interested in,” Shaughnessy said.
For example, the task force stated that the need for cooperation with other Minnesota libraries was inadequately considered in University proposals. But Shaughnessy said these concerns were addressed by the original plans.
“We indicated from day one that when this building was conceptualized we would accommodate important collections from other libraries in Minnesota.”
Groundbreaking for the center could begin during spring quarter.
“When are we going to go dig a hole?” Marshak said. “I suppose as soon as we can find the grass.”